Star Trek at the Smithsonian

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Event: Star Trek Exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air & Space Museum
Type: museum exhibit
Fandom: Star Trek
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Star Trek has been a part of the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum in several ways.

The 1970s

The Booklet of General Plans was part of a permanent exhibit titled "Life in the Universe."

The museum also collected artifacts, such as Star Trek fanzines. A fan in 1976 wrote about The Intergalactic Etcetera: "Have you heard? Our first and second issues have been accepted by the Smithsonian Institution Air and Space library in Washington D.C.!" [1]


flyer for audio tour

Timed for Star Trek's 25th anniversary, the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum hosted "Star Trek, the Exhibition," opening on February 28, 1992.

Originally scheduled to close on September 7, 1992, the exhibit was so popular that by June, the museum had extended the exhibit until January 31, 1993[2]. The exhibit welcomed its 500,000th visitor on Friday, September 4 1992 [3] and its 800,000th visitor sometime in December 1992.[4]. By the time it closed, over 850,000 people had visited.

Passes to the exhibit were free, but required. A limited number of same-day passes were available on a first come, first saved basis at the museum (lines were known to wrap around the museum). Or passes could be requested in advance through TicketMaster, with TicketMaster's own fees attached. All passes, regardless of source, were for specific days and had entry times spaced out at 15 minute increments. Once inside, a visitor could stay as long as they liked... or at least until the museum closed for the day. Group reservations were not available. The exhibit was located on the second floor of the museum, at the east end of the building in Gallery 211.

To further a visitor's enjoyment of the exhibit, an audio tour hosted by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy was available for rent.

The Exhibit

The exhibit was not only about Star Trek, but the influences on the show and how the show influenced others.

The Star Trek retrospective examines the historical, political, social and cultural issues and themes of the 1960's that were incorporated into the episodes. More than 80 original props, costumes and models used in the making of the series were on display, along with photographs from individual episodes.

The array of costumes includes Captain Kirk's uniform, Spock's ears, Dr. McCoy's medical tunic and Klingon and Romulan uniforms. The Enterprise and a Klingon ship used in filming the series are on display, as are a new version of the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser used in the production of the motion pictures and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Another section of the exhibition is devoted to the fan culture that has grown up around the series and includes a brochure from the first Trek convention in 1972, as well as toys, games, books, music and albums (but no zines). For those looking for that perfect souvenir, there are fun photo ops with mock-ups of the captain's chair and the transporter pad; the latter complete with life-size cut-outs of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

There is also a mini-theater in the exhibition hall which continuously runs a well made, 25-minute video documentary featuring interviews with the cast of the original series.[5]

Models, Costumes and Props Exhibited

The primary Enterprise model on display had been donated in 1974 by Paramount Pictures to the Smithsonian. Just prior to the Star Trek exhibit, the model had been displayed above the entrance to the Rocketry and Space Flight gallery.[6] Much of the model was repainted and "weathered" by Ed Miarecki during a controversial 1991 restoration. The top of the primary hull was largely preserved in its original state, as it was when originally filmed. The structure of the model was stabilized and internal lighting and nacelle effects were recreated.[7] During 1992-93, it was displayed beside the movie-version filming model (now owned, since 2006, by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and Blue Origin).[8]

Exhibit home movie

In 2011, ThePropKing uploaded to YouTube an 8-part home movie of a visit to the exhibit.[9]

Fan Volunteers

backcover of volunteer 'scrapbook' by W. Rostron

In a first for the National Air and Space Museum (though not for the Smithsonian) volunteers were used to help handle the expected crowds, taking passes, answering questions and providing directions. Around 250 fans from the metro DC area responded to a blurb in the Washington Post[10] and other announcements. Volunteers had to be at least 16 years old and work at least two four-hour shifts each month.

At the end of the exhibit's run, the volunteers and staff were thanked by NASM's Office of Special Events with a reception and party on Saturday, January 30, 1993 at the museum, held in part in its IMAX theater. Attending as guests of honor were Majel Barrett and Mark Lenard.

Volunteer 'Scrapbook'

A 16-page 'scrapbook' of anecdotes and statistics over the span of the exhibit was compiled by one of the volunteers from the contributions of many others volunteers as well as a few of the staff. Printed and given to volunteers and staff during the "wrap party" as a souvenir of the experience, it included a list of the costumes and props on exhibit, a sketch of the gallery layout, the transcript of the documentary film, and comments visitors left in the guest book along with a sampling of from where the visitors hailed (all 50 states, 6 of the Canadian provinces, and at least 50 other countries). Delightful cartoons were provided by NASM and exhibit staff member Walt Rostron and by long-time zine artist Colleen Winters (who at the time, was living in Washington state, not District).

Excerpts from the 'scrapbook'


A father lifting his small son onto his shoulders for a closer look at the large Enterprise model


A group of visiting Klingons providing a photo op for the other tourists. A crowd gathered around and adults had there pictures taken with the Klingons and kids came up to shake their hands.

unknown fan

One very busy evening, an exclamation by the 1960's Time Line caught my attention. A woman, looking at the photo of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial had found herself in the crowd.


A retired teacher asked me what the exhibit was. I explained that it contained pictures, scripts, etc. She was not terribly intereested as she "didn't like Star Trek" even though she had never seen it. But her students were wild about it. She went through the exhibit and came out about 90 minutes later. She told me that she had not known about the morality, racial and other subplots that Star Trek had dealt with. She was going home and to try and find Star Trek and start watching it.


While waiting in line to enter the gallery, a visitor was really badmouthing Star Trek, saying they wanted to find out what it was with the 'silly Trekkies,' those people with the pointed ears. As he left, he was overheard to say "There may be something to Star Trek after all."


One day a group of about 12 people came through the exhibit entrance. They were Hispanic and greeted me with a mixture of "Buon Di," Bueonos Dias," "Hello," and "Hi." After they had passed the time line and gone well into the gallery, one of the women came back out the entry path and stopped a the pass collection desk. She asked a question about one of the photos in the time line. At first I didn't understand what she had said, and asked her to repeat it for me. Pointing to the picture of Yuri Gagarin, she asked if I could get her a copy of that picture. Once I understood the request, I explained that we didn't have copies of any of the photos available for giving away. She really looked disappointed and remarked something to the effect that he was good looking. I agreed that he had been a handsome young man. I then brought her attention to the time of the photos and remarked that he had been killed in an aircraft crash in the late 1960's. She really looked sad at that point and stood looking at the picture for almost a full minute before going quietly back into the gallery. As the group left nearly an hour later, she again stopped briefly and gazed gazed dreamy eyed at the photo before departing the gallery. I am sure that the memory of that one picture from the Star Trek Exhibition will remain with the young woman who had not even been born at the time Gagarin made his historic flight into space.


What They Said After

(comments written in the visitor's guestbook)

As good as the "real" Enterprise.

(Capt. D. Roper, Commanding Officer, USS Enterprise (CVN-68))

First time I ever saw one of my toys in a museum.

(Ann Arbor, MI)

I never knew the costumes were that cheesy up close.

(Baltimore, MD)

This exhibit is a fine tribute to the good of the many.

(Harrisonburg, PA)

(Dayton, OH)

First rate history lesson of the 1960's.

(Oreno, ME)



2015 Open House at Udvar-Hazy Annex

Restorations of the Enterprise Filming Model

After the fan controversies regarding the 1991 restoration, the original TV filming model was threatened with off-display deep storage. In 2000, its reprieve saw it moved to the lower level of the Smithsonian's gift shop, where it stayed, undiscovered by many visitors, until 2014. In preparation for the TV series' 50th anniversary (and the 40th anniversary of the Air & Space building), the USS Enterprise received a full, museum-quality restoration and conservation. It was relocated back into the main museum area, with lights and sound, in a new, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled case.[11]


  1. ^ from issue #3 of The Intergalactic Etcetera (December 1976)
  2. ^ [Smithsonian Institute press release on the exhibit, June 22 1992)
  3. ^ [memo to volunteers from exhibition manager Walt Farrell, dated September 4, 1992]
  4. ^ [undated memo to volunteers from W. Farrell]
  5. ^ [flyer compiled by an unnamed fan, primarily from multiple Smithsonian press releases with some comments added by a fellow fan. dated May 15, 1992]
  6. ^ ["This Old Starship," Air & Space Magazine, pg. 20, April/May 1992]
  7. ^ CultTVman: Fantastic Modeling, "CultTVman's Enterprise Smithsonian Photos 1992", 30 January, 2015 (Accessed 01 June 2020).
  8. ^ Memory Alpha, "Jeff Bezos" (Accessed 01 June, 2020).
  9. ^ [1],link to Part 1 of 8 YouTube vids of the exhibit uploaded by ThePropKing
  10. ^ [Anne's Reader Exchange, The Washington Post, p. E22, April 4, 1922]
  11. ^ Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, "Enterprise studio model back on display", 27 June, 2016 (Accessed 01 June 2020)